There are two broad areas of governance pertaining to higher education ~ interaction with the Government and its departments, regulatory bodies, funding agencies, accreditation agencies, foreign collaboration etc. The category of external governance includes policy concerning the national agenda through statutory bodies like the UGC and other entities governing the performance of higher education institutions in terms of course content and duration.

The other issue relates to internal governance, specifically administrative matters, student support systems, social outreach, and interaction with stakeholders. The internal systems have scope of autonomy through academic councils and the governing boards. The internal governance is by and large carried out by the governing structure of the institution which includes the apex authority of the university, notably the Board of Governors, the University Court, the Senate, Governing Council etc. These apex entities are supported by the Academic Council, Boards of Studies, Research Boards, Planning Boards, Admission Committees, Faculty Councils, Selection Committees, and several other committees. The financial management of the institutions is looked after by the Finance Committee. Private institutes/universities are normally headed by the Chairperson or President of the sponsoring Trust with a significant number of family members in the Governing Council.

The policy makers have consistently equated governance of higher educational institutions (HEIs) not in terms of the pre-requisites of legal instruments like Act/Statutes and the pool of human resources like teachers, officers and non-teaching staff, but in relation to the overall objectives of higher education. The national objectives such as empowering human resources with knowledge and skill-sets through concerted policy interventions in terms of access, equity and excellence have generally determined the contours of governance. The draft New Education Policy ( NEP, 2016 ) indicates the same approach. The NEP is somewhat like the UGC’s 12th Plan Vision Document, marked by considerable chest-thumping. It speaks of targets to meet the changing dynamics of quality education, innovation and research, to make India a knowledge superpower by equipping its students with the skills and knowledge. The other objective is to eliminate the shortage of manpower in science, technology, academics and industry.

The policy mentions the regulations of HEIs and imperatives of their amendments to make them more relevant to current and future needs of a globalised and competitive higher education system. It speaks of dedicated websites and transparency but the thrust appears to be only on the regulatory structures rather than its “soft core” or the involvement of all sections of teachers, officers and other staff empowered with the capacity to deliver in their respective domains.

The concept of governance in NEP and similar other policy formulations is superficial, narrow and myopic. The policy-makers emphasise the objectives, but ignore or overlook the ways and means to achieve these lofty targets. There is no reference to revamping the internal administration, rules and procedures for decision-making, domain knowledge and professional development of the administrative resources. Wherever there are references to the strategies of implementation, the policies invariably focus only on the faculty and development of research programmes. The university officers are ignored rather contemptuously.

This is a lopsided and narrow view of Governance. It is distressing that the draft NEP is aligned to the traditional path of ignoring the fact that strategies of governance must be in sync with the structures of governance and available physical and human resources. The development of capability in each of the three major sections is the pre-requisite to achieve the targets. The university management can play a crucial role in this respect and the success stories reflect that the best practices can be ensured by the involvement of all sections of the faculty, officers and other administrative staff with the highest level of professionalism , competence, skill-sets, commitment and dedication. Instead, the NEP , like the preceding policy documents, has stressed on the role of teachers only, going to the extent of proposing the Indian Education Service for faculty recruitment. There is a superficial reference to the concept of university management ~ “Efficient management of a university depends largely on the professional competence and managerial skills of the senior management personnel. The education sector needs professionals with qualities of leadership and credibility to tackle complex management issues.”

That is the be-all and end-all of this crucial category. There is no other reference to any scheme for professional development of university officers while there are many for the teachers. The policy completely overlooks the fact that recruitment qualifications of university officers are more or less similar to those of the teachers in respective categories under a three-tier pattern. The qualifications are based on the premise recommended by the Rastogi Committee ( 1996) that the universities will require a “movement” from teachers to officers and vice-versa. This is precisely why the administration is called academic-administration.

The quality deficiency and poor governance in higher education institutions stems from the callous policy of depending only on the teaching cadre and ignoring the managerial sector. Barring a few instances of quality governance like islands of excellence in an ocean of mediocrity, the traditional university administration is still being run with outdated, obsolete manners and tools and mindsets. There is no policy to launch initiatives to nurture and groom the personnel with modern 21st century tools of management, updated managerial culture, professionalism, soft skills and e-governance. A flexible pattern of organisational management which is responsive to changes in the era of collaborative education, globalisation and competition is imperative. This can only be built on the principles of professionalism, collective leadership, decentralisation and devolution of powers and functions, participation of officers in decision-making, parity with the Teachers in pay-scales and all service conditions.

The situation as it now prevails is no different from the principles of apartheid in higher educational institutions as far as treatment meted out to university officers is concerned. These officers are accountable on a 24×7 basis, their working hours are not fixed, and they are expected to discharge their work as fast as possible and with due transparency. And yet they are treated with indifference. They are often called upon to provide clarifications on important issues, but their opinions are generally disregarded. They are not allowed to pursue research programmes, attend seminars and conferences. There is hardly any scope for professional development through orientation and refresher courses.

The UGC Pay Review Committee has completely excluded this category. Another example of discrimination is the proposal to set up National and State Training Academies for an induction programme for only the “newly recruited faculty”. There is no reference to the officers although the imperatives are too obvious to all. Complete parity in service conditions is central to academic-administration. This ought to be the primary task for the nation that strives for excellence in higher education and research and a high employability-quotient. The discriminatory outlook must end and the policy of apartheid, woven around discrimination and deprivation to university officers, jettisoned. Let complete parity in pay-scales and service benefits between teachers and officers, who possess similar recruitment qualifications, be put in place as a matter of policy.

The writer is former Registrar, University of North Bengal, Siliguri.